Green grass. Leaves on the trees. Shorts and tees. Bugs on my visor. I must be in Texas. Austin, Texas to be precise. After blasting 430 miles through Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma yesterday, I had an easy 270 in Texas today. Reminded to “Don’t Mess with Texas”, I thought it was a dire warning based on their supremacy in capital punishment or the abundance of shit-kicking cowboys toting gun racks in their pick-ups. And though those are very good reasons to walk softly while here, Don’t Mess with Texas is their anti-littering campaign slogan. Austin isn’t anything like stereotypical Texas. The State Capital, Austin is home to the University of Texas and has a very cosmopolitan feel. It is the only city encountered so far that is truly booming – traffic backed up for miles (on a Saturday afternoon) and sky cranes are perched along the city skyline.
I stayed at Eisenhower State Park near the Oklahoma boarder last night. I was one of two campers there and claimed an elevated site looking west over a forested river valley. I had camp set up in time to admire an orange/crimson sunset followed by a star-filled canopy. I awoke early and was on my way before 8:00 AM.
First order of the day was to find a post office to send off my cold weather gear. After a couple of hours, my low-fuel warning light illuminated and thought this would be a good opportunity to get fuel, grab a bite to eat and hit the post. So I stopped in a polyp of a town: Italy, Texas, and navigated to their postal building. Grabbing my garments, I walk into the foyer and yanked the door open – but it’s locked. What the Hell? A sign indicates Saturday hours of operation are 9 to 10. My watch indicates 10:05. Nice. Back on the road, I stopped in Hillsboro. Being a much bigger city, I was able to get my gear off with 10 minutes to spare.
Here in Austin I’m staying at a Hostelling International location tonight. On the shore of the Colorado River, bedrooms are dorm style with public areas offering laundry, showers, a kitchen, lockers for storage, and free WiFi. A unique characteristic of the hostel is the ability to meet plenty of other travellers, with overnight guests today from England, Brazil, and China. People hang out in the public area and converse. Pretty cool. Rates are reasonable at $26.50.
Once I checked in, I contacted a friend I used to work with during my engineering days back in Illinois. Paul moved to a small suburb of Austin about 11 years ago and this evening we hooked up to reminisce. Even though it’s been many years since we worked together, I still remember Paul paying me a kind compliment. He was working on a difficult serial communication protocol problem and I offered some advice. He went off to try my suggestion. A short time later he returned, provided a nod of his head and said “I bow to your expertise.” This made a lasting impression because Paul’s a really sharp guy and I’ve always respected his knowledge and work ethic.
Tonight, Paul drove us to Uncle Billy’s Brew & Que for a couple of beers and a snack. Uncle Billy’s has an old run down saloon atmosphere with a large outdoor patio. Patrons in summer garb were enjoying the warm breeze and cool brew pub beer. As was I. Being my last chance to enjoy fresh ales for the next seven weeks, I quaffed a pint of ESB and another of IPA. I love this place, with leashed dogs seated beside their masters and a toddler showing her dance moves on a picnic table, it was very chill.